As the snow melts and temperatures rise, the playground again is open for business! And with playground, comes play. And with play, and children, there will be conflict: there are turns to be taken, rules about games, questions about who gets to do what when.
Parents often ask how best to address these squabbles. What should the adults do to help kids when there’s conflict? Here at Atrium, we encourage parents to step back and allow kids to work things out, to help them build–and use–the skills and tools of negotiation. When parents intervene, we deprive kids of the opportunity to learn and build relationships with one another. And, believe it or not, kids don’t love it when parents jump in to referee every exchange. Once children are able to express their feelings, desires, and boundaries, they build confidence in their ability to advocate for themselves by practicing that communication, and in turn, receiving a response.
It’s OK to coach your child, to suggest strategies or things to say, such as “why don’t you ask if you can have a turn?” or “it hurt my feelings when you said that.” It’s so much more powerful for a child to hear from another child “that hurt my feelings” than to have a parent tell them “that wasn’t very nice. You should apologize.”
If our own child is on the receiving end of aggression or meanness, our instinct is to intervene as parents to advocate for them, to spare their feelings, to smooth the bumps, to protect. If our child happens to be on the other side of the interaction–the one who is the aggressor–we might intervene to stick up for the other kid, but also for the sake of the other parents around. Who wants to be the mom who “lets her kid get away with that?” It can be useful (and community building, by the way) to have a sidebar with your child, and then speak to the other parents instead of intervening between the kids: “I’m really sorry that my daughter keeps going out of turn. It’s something we’re working on, and I’ve reminded her. I don’t want to jump in quite yet, because I notice that your kids are telling her that she needs to wait. It’s much better if it comes from them. If it gets to be too much, I’ll help out.” Who’s the smart Mama now? It’s amazing how effective, contagious, and community building this approach can be!